Who is Call the Midwife’s Sister Mildred?
Described as “a forthright and indefatigable sister from the Order,” Sister Mildred makes her first appearance in the Call the Midwife Christmas special – turning up at Nonnatus House with four Chinese child refugees in tow.
Sister Mildred has just arrived from Hong Kong. The child refugees who accompany her were found abandoned there, and are being adopted in the UK as part of the World Refugee Project – but first they must make their journey to the Mother House in time for Christmas.
It is a particularly important time at the Mother House, as the Mother Superior is dying and the nuns must elect her successor. Will Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) be forced to leave her beloved job at Nonnatus House to return to the Order’s headquarters and take on the top job? And what will happen when chatty and straight-talking Sister Mildred makes her entrance?
Margolyes is perhaps best known as Professor Sprout from the Harry Potter movies. Her other credits include The Age of Innocence, Bucket, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Trollied, Rake, and Bottersnikes & Gumbles. On the stage, she starred in the acclaimed I’ll Eat You Last, and will soon be taking on The Lady in the Van for a production in Melbourne.
Will Miriam Margolyes be back for Call the Midwife series eight?
Yes! Series creator Heidi Thomas has revealed that Miriam Margolyes “will appear at intervals throughout the new series.”
After arriving from Hong Kong with the Chinese orphans in tow, Sister Mildred returns to the Order’s Mother House during the Christmas special – which means she’s perfectly placed for guest appearances when series eight airs in 2019.
But Margolyes’ Call the Midwife role has actually been a long time coming, as she has been angling to appear on the show for years. In 2016, she revealed on ITV’s This Morning: “I love that programme, I think they are all majestically brilliant – fine actresses – so I want to be there. There is no end to what I would do to get on that programme. I love it, I love that show.”
“She really was serious about it,” Jenny Agutter says. “And then when we were talking about this, she said, ‘Yes but I didn’t think they were going to cast me as a nun.'”
On hearing that Marogolyes was joining the cast, Helen George says: “We were really excited. We’ve been saying for years: ‘Can you cast Miriam Margolyes because she’d be so much fun?’ Then they did and we were like: ‘Oh My God!’”
What is it like to work with Miriam Margolyes?
“I mean the woman eats raw onions for breakfast. She is a wonder,” Helen George says. (She’s not joking, by the way: this is an actual fact.) She adds, “It’s health benefits. She swears by it, she has a whole raw onion every morning for breakfast.”
Jenny Agutter, who plays Sister Julienne, is also a Margolyes fan. “Miriam was an absolute laugh, and wonderful, and very unpredictable,” she reveals. “After some particularly outrageous comments, she turned to me and said, ‘I hope you know that I’m known to be a little bit naughty.’ I said, ‘yes, I have heard that.'”
Sister Monica Joan actress Judy Parfitt adds: “She’s absolutely brilliant. She said something one day, and I said, ‘Miriam, you’re deeply eccentric.’ And she said: ‘Me??'”
So what does Margolyes get up to on set? “When a hardened crew gets shocked this is new territory for us,” says Stephen McGann, who plays Dr Turner. “And then the very next minute, what she does – as we would all attest – is she is one of the most focused [actresses]. She is a brilliant actress and everyone knows, but she’s still in my view underrated.
“Because when those moments call for it, in typical Call the Midwife fashion, there are moments of such tenderness and perception… Like the great Judy Parfitt, she’s somebody capable of turning on a sixpence to the most beautiful observed and intelligent performance, and then she will come out with an expletive.
“But she is totally focused, she is very mischievous but a brilliant addition as far as I’m concerned, an absolutely superb addition. Fits in like a glove.”
This article was originally published in December 2018
Call the Midwife season eight airs on Sundays on PBS at 8/7c